February 02, 2016 - 4:30 PM
VERNON - The president of the Okanagan Equestrian Society believes the only way an ongoing legal dispute with the City of Vernon will be settled is in court.
Representatives from both the city and the society previously expressed an interest in resolving the dispute over Kin Race Track out of court, but recent negotiations are proving that may not be possible.
“The city has not brought anything to the table that we can even discuss, let’s say that,” newly elected society president Robyn Dalziel says.
The society held an annual general meeting Sunday, Jan. 31 and the main order of business was what to do about the race track property, which it leases from the city. Dalziel says the city breached the original operations contract in 2004 by stopping payments to the society for maintenance and upkeep of the grounds.
“Every year they paid us to meet their obligation to keep the race track in racing condition,” Dalziel says. “They have not paid us since 2004, and the race track has fallen into such disrepair we’re no longer able to use the grounds for our purpose.”
In 2010, the city evicted them from the property, but the society refused to back down. It’s been mired in a legal dispute ever since, and Dalziel now feels the only resolution can come from the courts.
“The past ten years of negotiation have brought us no closer to a conclusion,” Dalziel says. “Until the city is told by a judge our contracts are valid, I don’t see that we’re going to find any middle ground.”
An agreement signed in 2000 by the city and the North Okanagan Regional District calls for $10,000 per year to be given to the operators of Vernon Racing Days; at the time the Vernon and District Agricultural Society. The agreement was to be renewed every five years providing the society continued to run racing days, equestrian training or other approved livestock events.
The race track grandstands burned down in a suspected arson in the summer of 2014, and the insurance proceeds are another point of contention. Dalziel says the insurance contract states the money should be used to rebuild the grandstands, which are essential to hosting horse racing events, but they haven’t seen the proceeds.
If the case does go to court — something the board and society membership will decide in the coming months — Dalziel says it will likely take at least two years after the matter is resolved before the facility will be ready for racing days.
“Everything is in such disrepair. It would all have to be fixed and brought up to standards. We have a whole host of other equestrian activities that would be happy to go in there and use the arenas. It’s not just horse racing, we have a whole equestrian community that, if we are successful, want to go in there, but we have to build from the ground up basically,” Dalziel says.
The City of Vernon isn’t saying much about the situation it until speaks with its lawyer. Coun. Catherine Lord says the city has not received a formal response to the offer it put on the table during recent negotiations, and has only heard of the society’s plans for court action through the media.
“Now it’s going to be up to the lawyers to see if there’s any chance of negotiating (out of court),” Lord says.
She says the insurance money from the burned down grandstands has come in, but wouldn’t comment on how it will be used.
Recently, a homeless camp has developed at the race track, although neither the city nor the society have any plans to evict the campers.
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